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Journalism students as entrepreneurs

“Are traditional skills enough or do the new generation of journalists also need to be entrepreneurs?” asked Patrick Barkham in a Media Guardian feature today.

He cited examples of entrepreneurship, as preached by CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis, in journalism departments at various British universities.

Journalism.co.uk – rather an old ‘start-up’ at 10 years old, it must be said – got a mention, along with my comment that blogs and Twitter gave student journalists more opportunity than ever for a platform from which to get noticed.

But the real challenge of making money is rather more tricky than just getting heard, as the debate on today’s NUJ New Media email list indicated.

“Surely freelancers have always been entrepreneurs?” one contributor commented.

“Yes, journalists need to be taught about how business works and also how to manage people (how many journalists do you know who have made awful managers?) But that might be more appropriate to ongoing training than basic foundation courses,” added Journalism.co.uk’s founder John Thompson.

Alex Wood, City University alumni and a founder of the Berlin Project, thinks the entrepreneurial speak is ‘old news,’ saying that he and his student colleagues regularly made use of freelance opportunities, web design and online articles. “I’d say with most courses now over £10,000, becoming an ‘entrepreneur’ isn’t a skill, it’s a necessity (…) It’s a simple case of sink or survive and with huge debt around graduates necks these days, people are a lot more willing to fight.”

Meanwhile, multimedia and recently freelance journalist, Adam Westbrook, said that ‘this talk about journalists-as-entrepreneurs recognises a distinction between freelance journalism and entrepreneurship’.

“Yes, if freelancers run themselves as mini businesses there is some similarity, but I think its also about embracing the entrepreneurial spirit, looking for new markets and opportunities to exploit – seems a bit anti-journalism but that’s the game I think.

“And the ultimate journalism start-up is the one which cuts a profit and self sustains (ideally not through advertising alone), rather than living off grants or donations.”

Paul Bradshaw, lecturer at Birmingham City University and founder of the OnlineJournalismBlog, thinks the new approach does go beyond traditional methods; it’s a form of entrepreneurial journalism ‘that seeks to find new business models for journalism, rather than existing freelance journalism models,’ he said. “That could be anything from new forms of advertising, public funds, or platforms like iPhone apps etc.”

Join the debate and send your own examples, in the comments, or through Twitter (via @journalismnews):

  • How is the new journalistic entrepreneurship different from freelancing of present / yore?
  • Are journalism schools the right places to develop these skills? Or would students be better off in business school?

Entrepreneurship will be one of the topics tackled at our news:rewired conference on 14 January 2010. See http://newsrewired.com for more details. Tickets on sale now.

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